To the White Liberal Church

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I’m glad you don’t hate gay people. I’m glad you think Black Lives Matter. I’m glad you’re inclusive, welcoming, affirming – I’m glad you’re the good kind of religious people.

But you’re not.

A lot of us had to learn that the hard way.

We had to learn that we were counted as members in order to reach a quota. We were present so the pastor, the church, the denomination, looked good. Open-minded. Liberal. Progressive.

Our gifts were used, flaunted even, and we were constantly affirmed. Told we were needed, necessary, and we were thanked. Over and over again. For what? For showing up. Without saying a word, we were counted prophets.

Until we noticed how you spoke to our immigrant mothers in broken English, or that your missions program was deeply problematic, or that the whole staff was white – and we said something. And then, we were no longer told we were prophets. Instead, we were trouble.

Sometimes we were patted, thanked for speaking our truth, told our words mattered and that they’d spill into the board meeting. But nothing happened. We were just politely hushed.

And then so many of us realized what was happening, wondered why are we even here anyway?

We fell in love with Jesus – who centered and glorified those on the margins. We fell in love with Jesus, but maybe not your Jesus.

It felt good to hear his words from the pulpit, it set fire under our feet, a burning in our chest, but then we looked around the congregation and wondered who here would die for me?

And when we realized that we couldn’t be confident that our fellow church members would share their wealth, their privilege, or their lives with their siblings in Christ, that’s we also realized they probably aren’t our siblings. And this is probably not a church. At least not the one Jesus formed.

We want the Church of Jesus. A church that feeds the hungry, frees prisoners, cancels debts. A church that is aware and awake to the suffering around them and determined to dismantle and destroy every system causing this suffering. A church led by and for those so often pushed down and out. A church that embodies Love, a church that embodies Jesus.

That’s not what you offer. Your seminaries, your liturgies, and your churches weren’t made for us. Not even your gospel is for us. I’m not the only one that’s left the white liberal church, and I won’t be the last. We’re done with your churches and we’re not coming back. And I’ll let you know – we’re finding each other and we’re building something better. Truer.

A Revolutionary Pentecostalism

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A service at Catch the Fire Church, site of the Toronto Blessing

To be Pentecostal is to be political.

Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, we are immersed into a new reality. We see the governments and authorities around us for what they are, and in us begins a longing for the kin-dom Jesus spoke about, breaking in and spilling over. A new politics emerges in our hearts, one that values others as holy and seeks to create a world where love is the name by which all are known. We stumble into a world where the weak reign and the powerful are humbled, where divinity is found in humanity.

This is the kin-dom of God.

We are overcome by a love that drags us down into its deep embrace and shows us who we were made to be, who we really are. We meet mercy as a dear friend – familiar, intimate. Love was always there, staring us in the face, waiting for us to open our eyes. There were moments where we yielded to love without knowing, our eyes shut tight. But in this baptism, we jump in to seize (and be seized by) God’s kin-dom. We are gloriously devastated. And we see in this kin-dom of God – as it touches the world around us and everything bursts into flame – that we are standing on holy ground.

We know it in our bones. We always knew. When we were baptized in the Spirit, did not our bodies tremble? We were transfigured, and we could not help but babble in Spirit language. We were babies with so much to say, but our words were not enough to utter what stirred within us. We stuttered – our tongues undone. The world heard us tripping on syllables, intoxicated, and counted us fools. But here we are with our feet planted firmly in heaven.

We must not lose sight of that baptism. It was a taste, a first opening, a grand and debilitating invitation to the kin-dom within. We must not be satisfied with that taste. We weren’t invited to visit the kin-dom, but to host, to live in, to embody kin-dom come. We are called to feast.

This kin-dom cannot co-exist with our current governments and authorities, the systems, the powers and principalities. There is no place in the kin-dom for domination, no need of coercion.

So it is through baptism that we enter apocalypse, the uncovering of truth. Our eyes are opened, and we see Love. Our eyes are opened, and we see the devastation of empire. Our eyes are opened, and we know that empire’s time has come to an end. It is finished.

But the Church tells us to wait. That reality, that world – that’s in the future. We have no role in its manifestation, we’re told, so we wait – convinced that this waiting is patience, convinced that we are waiting on God. Tragically, we’re waiting on what is already in us while God waits for us to take hold of it. God calls us – agents of kin-dom come – to break in, to dismantle, to sabotage, to subvert, to find those imprisoned and set them free.

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

God has been waiting for us to break in and bind the powers of empire – capitalism, white supremacy, the carceral state, every injustice, every evil.

God has been waiting for us to break in and loose those in slavery to empire – the poor, the naked, the hungry, those sick and in prison, anyone hungry for Love.

We are called to fight our way into the future we believe in. To create a world where kin-dom can thrive. To bless, nurture, and build movements of liberation. To participate in them, to join the struggle of the oppressed. To manifest the outrageous empathy and compassion that we met on those sweat-soaked church carpets. Freely we have received, and freely we shall give.

To be a Pentecostal is to be a revolutionary.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

On Being Friends with Jesus

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“Slain in the Spirit”

I came to know Jesus when I was 16 years old. I was swallowed up by a revelation that sticks me with today: Jesus is God. Before that, religion was forms, it was duty. But then, it became a relationship, a person, a new kind of existence.

When I look to Jesus, I look to God. In this human, I can know God. It was through Jesus that I realized that I could be friends with God.

Newly saved, I would be anxious to get home from school, wanting alone time with God. I would read the Bible for hours, wrestling with the text and demanding wisdom, clarification, answers from God, and sometimes I’d be led to something, and other times not. No matter what, I was just happy to be in God’s presence.

I’d sing to God, dance with God. I’d have fits of laughter that would go late into the night. My mom would come into my room to scold me, thinking I was on my laptop screwing around on YouTube. She’d find me sprawled out, being tickled by the Holy Spirit. Her son, a Pentecostal. Relieved, I’m sure, that I wasn’t on the computer, but mostly confused. She didn’t know what to do with me.

The cheesiest pop songs on the radio – God, even Coldplay – began to mean to something to me. That’s how I felt about God. I longed for God. She was beautiful. I couldn’t get her off of my mind. I loved how she wrapped herself around all humanity, all creation. I love how she made her home in me. She was Love itself. And I was in love. I still am.

All that to say, I love Jesus. God is my friend.

As I’ve come to know Jesus, I’ve come to the humanity of God. The God I met in Christ is the marriage of humanity and divinity. “Fully God” looks like “fully human.”

The life of Jesus is the life of God. And his life wrecks all hierarchies. It dethrones all kings. Even Jesus was dethroned. With a crown of thorns, he took up a cross instead. And he calls us to do the same.

This is what it means to be godly: it is surrender to empathy wherever she leads you. It requires a certain weakness, a humanness, a vulnerability, that makes one take up the pain of others, to join their struggle and lean into solidarity,  fearlessly and shamelessly yielding to the movement of liberation.

By the looks of it, being God is being an accomplice, a comrade in the struggle. If the livelihood and very existence of the oppressed is practically illegal, then we are called to become accomplices. We are called to an existence that rejects and actively combats the false authorities that are imprisoning and murdering God’s image-bearers. Going as far as literally “setting prisoners free.”

Allies are not accomplices. Allies are disconnected from empathy, valuing appearances and gestures over action. Knowing the direction of where justice is calling us to, but limiting their surrender to it. They create no tangible or material change but rhetorically affirm their righteousness. They will not join the struggle of the oppressed but will instead dialogue with the oppressor, believing that they can convince others to be reasonable, compassionate, and perhaps, repentant. Meanwhile, people die.

Their desire for everybody, most importantly the oppressor, to be comfortable is more necessary than the liberation of those suffering. They’re proud to be more progressive and enlightened than others. They believe they see beyond the emotional cloudiness of the oppressed and the ignorant bias of the oppressor. And that they can be friends with both.

But they can’t. When you become a friend of Jesus, you discover he has very real friends, and very real enemies. Ultimately, Christ’s war is against systems and not people, but there are people who enjoy and push forward these systems, and they need to be restrained. These people are not your friends.

When you become a friend of Jesus, you join the struggle of his friends. And his friends are those that bear the Image of God most fully – the oppressed.

In some sense, there is still a hierarchy. We are called to lift up those who have been crushed, to amplify the voices of those pushed out and rejected. They are God’s priority and this is their gospel. In their suffering and denial of power, they know the heart of God. By being willing to do whatever it takes to honor their Incarnation, you become a Christian.

Honoring their Incarnation may call a disciple of Christ to what some may call violent action. We cannot simply dismiss all physical harm done to others for the sake of revolutionary and liberatory purposes as violent, when the ways we are trying to transform society are not working, and people are dying as a result of that.

If your pacifism is merely an ideological value and not a threat to the state and these systems we are called to wage war against, then your pacifism sides with the violence of the state.

The threat of the Alt-Right and the growing number of organized and armed fascists and ultra-nationalists, is a reality the Church is facing and will continue to. Violent political upheaval didn’t climax in Charlottesville, it was simply inaugurated on a larger scale. The original sin of the United States, white supremacy, has become more blatant and spelled out, and as capitalism collapses on society, things in this regard will only get worse.

Such purist perspectives on violence are idolatry. The idea that God is above us and that their instruction is more important than the well-being and lives of God’s children is cruel. This piety is demonic. Any theology that values God above people is false. From experience I can say that as I’ve fallen more in love with God, I’ve fallen more in love with God’s children. Our loyalty to God is found in our loyalty to the suffering. If our loyalty to God leads us to betray or forsake the suffering, then we are deceived idolaters.

Allyship is not enough. The kin-dom of God is not a matter of talk, but power. When God’s love manifests, it turns power upside down. It destroys and creates. It tears down and lifts up. It’s shocking. It makes people angry, scared even. It’s prophetic.

Of course, allies will name the marginalized in their lives as prophets. That is, until they prophesy to them, or their community. When their allyship is attacked, they will shut down these prophets with condescension, with eyes signaling that they’re understanding but words that are really just a drawn out, polite hush. They say, isn’t that a little harsh? Isn’t that taking it a little too far?

Friends of Jesus are accomplices and realize that loving their neighbor looks like something. It looks like solidarity, it looks like mutual aid, it looks like reparations, and, frankly, it looks like revolution. They realize that sometimes loving their neighbor looks like keeping their neighbor from oppressing others. They realize that love for others can put their reputations and lives at risk. They realize that the systems that dictate our lives cannot be reformed or transformed, but need to be abolished. And they act on it. They live it.

God’s kin-dom demands more than allyship – it demands revolutionaries. To be a friend of Jesus is to know him not as a great leader or mighty king, but as a comrade. To be his friend requires becoming an accomplice to the oppressed, to join their struggle. As he was an outlaw for the sake of the oppressed, so will be his followers. He will walk with us, hand in hand, to tear down Empire, and to welcome our kin-dom. It’s in our midst, he says. We just need to be willing to let love unravel in our lives. It’s a daunting task. The systems of the world are built against you, and they will fight you from all sides. Do not fear, though, for he is with us, to the end of the age. Love is on our side.

Set fire to Empire

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Let’s get to the point

To follow Jesus is to build a new world from the ashes of the old. Sometimes, for the sake of justice, we’re called to start the fires that create those ashes.

Last February, Catholic Workers Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya set fire to heavy machinery being used to construct the Dakota Access Pipeline. They were willing to be misunderstood, arrested and imprisoned. They were willing to fight for the earth and for God’s children. These are Christ’s friends and accomplices.

Just as Jesus was criticized for making a mess of the Temple, Reznicek and Montoya have also been condemned. They’re not the first. Christians condemned the Camden 28, a group of Catholic anti-Vietnam War activists who raided a draft board. They condemned participants in the Plowshares movement, the Christian anti-nuclear activists who advocate for direct action that damages weapons and military property.

Jesus’ disciples remember: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Christians would do well to remember that zeal for what God has made – the temples of our bodies, the tabernacle of Creation – is supposed to be a mark of our love by which they will know we are Christians.

This zeal is what makes a revolution. This zeal is love. It drives people to stand up and fight back for the sake of the unheard and oppressed. These are who Christ came for, and this is their good news. People with disabilities, prisoners, the poor – intimately acquainted with systemic violence – they’re at the center of God’s good news, heirs of God’s kingdom.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

If this is our call, then there’s a lot of work to do. People are suffering today. People need liberation today. People are waiting for the Kingdom, and they’re dying. Today. Empire derives its power from the suffering of the oppressed. And it will continue unless we stop it – until we smash it.

The rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces for evil in the heavenly realms – this is empire.

Empire is capitalism. Empire is white supremacy. Empire is sexism, homophobia, transphobia. Empire is the cultural systems that crush God’s children, God’s image-bearers. Empire seeks to destroy the very Kin-dom of God.

Empire’s foot soldiers are all who support the status quo, all who can afford to survive the suffering imposed on their neighbors. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. Some do not care because they do not know. Some are unable to care. They benefit by not caring. After all, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for such people to enter the kingdom of God.

We cannot wait for change. Such people cannot change because they are convinced that their freedom requires that others continue to be oppressed.

Jesus fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He rebuked religious leaders and the rich, overturned tables and cleared the temple courts with a whip. He didn’t waste time reasoning. He acted for the people and against the systems that enslaved them.

Where Jesus goes, we must follow. Even with a whip. Also with loaves and fishes. Always in solidarity.

But Jesus is the Prince of Peace, some might say. This is violence.

I disagree.

Violence drives a Dodge Challenger into the crowd. Violence shoots from the thirty-second floor of the Mandala Bay. Violence breaks into a Bible study or a dance club or an elementary school. Violence questions your right to vote. Violence refuses medical treatment, asks you what you were wearing and how much you had to drink and why you were there in the first place. Violence drags you from a desk or tackles you at a community pool. Violence offers you a golf trophy and scoffs at your ingratitude when you ask for clean water.

Violence offers to pray and says it wishes it could do more. Things are going to be different, it promises. You’ll see. Turn the other cheek, it says, just before it turns away.

God’s liberating love demands radical empathy – living in communion with God and with God’s children. This love – Jesus’ love – teaches us how to love, how to be human, even unto death.

God’s Kingdom is a new heaven and a new earth, a place that provides shelter, feeds the hungry, heals the sick. God’s Kingdom springs forth from the scorched earth of Empire – a place that kills the weak, steals from the poor, and destroys all that is beautiful.

It’s time to burn it down.

Sabotage the pipelines that bleed oil into rivers. Tear down the monuments memorializing slave owners and racists. Set free the prisoners. Disarm the police. “Peace, peace,” they say.

So we shall make peace. We will be insulted. We will be persecuted. People will falsely say all kinds of evil against us. But we will make peace.

As white nationalists are emboldened.

As we witness state-sponsored repression.

As people are beaten and bloodied in the streets.

We must ask ourselves: are we willing to act? Will we sabotage the means of oppression? Will we use force to fight for the freedom of fascism’s victims? Will we surrender our sense of propriety, our personal piety, our ethical purity for the sake of God’s children?

Or will we sit in the marketplaces with blood on our hands:

We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;

we sang a dirge,

and you did not mourn.

Empire cannot be reformed or transformed. Instead, it will be shown for what it is. It will be revealed with fire.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Sometimes love breaks rules

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My mom didn’t talk to me for forty days after I came out to her as gay. I’d revealed that the friend I kept bringing when I visited family was actually my boyfriend of two years. She was shocked.

Because my mom believes in a sanctified numerology, forty days was the time she needed to sort through her hurt and disappointment with God. At the end of the forty days, she concluded that I had a clean conscience, and she couldn’t argue with that. But in spite of her tolerance of me, her theology remained unchanged.

She’d once told me that gay people were “spiritually lower than animals,” so perhaps this was a progressive position for her.

What followed, though, was silence.

We talked some on the phone but never about anything important. She’d update me on family gossip and I’d tell her I was busy but doing well. I kept things brief and vague. I couldn’t talk about my favorite person with her. I’d tell her about trips, outings, concerts, all sorts of events and occasions, but I’d always leave out that I went with my boyfriend.

Before she knew he was my boyfriend, she used to ask about him all the time, how he was doing, what he was up to. She would often remind me to be more like him – a good boy. This was also her way of saying that I should go back to school. That was before she knew we were together. She didn’t bring him up after she found out. I lived across the country, so this arrangement of silence felt doable. It didn’t feel good, but it was something I could live with.

A year later I moved back east, staying with my sister and her husband. Then, six months later, my parents decided to move in as well, to help with my newborn nephew.

Things were strained and surface-level. I was hiding my life, barely explaining why I was flying to Texas every other month or why I wasn’t doing Thanksgiving with the family. My family is good at denial. Things too confusing, too difficult, too awkward, just get put away where we don’t have to look at them. This was just like all the other things we never deal with.

But then my boyfriend broke up with me. And all I could do was cry. The tears would well up without warning. I’d run to my bedroom or the backyard or go on a walk. I felt like a teenager again, hiding things from my parents. Smoking out of my windowsill became sobbing into my pillow. I’d practice looking happy in front of the mirror after hours of crying like I used to practice looking sober during parties.

But even without seeing the tears, my mom knew something was wrong. She could see the way I dragged my body. Concerned, she approached my sister. And my sister told her everything. She told her about the boy, about the breakup, about how my mom had proven she wasn’t a person I could share my life with.

My mom climbed the stairs to my room. She knocked on my door. I answered, and there she was, her eyes filled with tears. She wrapped her arms around me, held me tight, said again and again and again how sorry she was for the pain she put me through, for the pain I was living in. She promised I’d find somebody better for me, that I would be happy again, that I deserve that much.

That night my mom slept in my bed, holding me, wiping down my wet face. Only a few weeks before the break-up, she’d switched my glass of wine with Martinelli’s at dinner, thinking she was sneaky and that somehow I wouldn’t notice, but this night she kept asking if I needed a beer, if I needed to smoke. She was willing to break her rules for me. She was willing to go against her church. For me.

Sometimes love does that, at least the good kind of love. It breaks the rules – especially the religious ones – in order to embrace people in pain and to reassure them. You don’t have to be alone. Because I’m here with you. And I love you.

Seeking a People

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I used to call myself a Quaker. I never joined a meeting, and honestly, I had suspicions from the beginning that it just wasn’t going to work. But I was desperate for people, and I really wanted the Quakerism I’d read about.

I couldn’t find it, though, and now I’m not sure it exists.

In the meantime, I’ve been talking, and writing, and a number of Friends say my critical observations about Quaker institutions and culture are illegitimate, either because of my lack of membership or because of my newness. I don’t have a right to point out classism and white supremacy, they say.

It’s been hard finding my place and voice in the Religious Society of Friends. And honestly, I’ve given up. I don’t see the point.

When I read what early Friends wrote, I’m drawn to their vision. Friends lived out of step with the world. Their yielding to Christ demanded deep listening, joy in suffering for the truth, abandonment to the movement of Love. They declared the end of days and rejected the idolatry of nationalism. They were living into a new Society of Friends.

George Fox wrote about the Kingdom of God breaking into this world – and it came from within – this was the gospel I knew, the gospel I needed. Quakers were holy fools, apocalyptic evangelists, soldiers of prophecy. They were about liberation and creating the age-to-come. That was the Spirit I knew. This was the church I longed for.

Then I found Quakers. They weren’t exactly what I’d read about, and it was kind of confusing. But I decided to stick around for a while. After all, maybe God could use existing Quaker institutions to renew the Society of Friends. I believed and hoped that some of these institutions might lead Friends of all branches into convergence, and then that the Spirit might dissolve our dependence on institutions. I thought that as we yielded to the Spirit, she would return us to that apostolic and anarchic ecclesiology of early Friends.

What I’ve found, instead, is that Friends have converged on a shared history and a handful of practices.

But if the Society of Friends is to ever again carry the anointing of early Quakers, if it is to ever embody the vision of Margaret Fell, going “hand in hand in the unity and fellowship of this eternal Spirit,” it must do more than embrace a convoluted historical connection and some shared practices.

If we are converging on history and practice, we are missing the point. If we are depending on institutions to create a new society or usher in the Kingdom, then we are deceived. These will not bring the radically egalitarian and Spirit-filled communities that God fostered among early Friends. These are forms, and Friends must follow the Spirit.

I’ve met others who need a Spirit-led Society. We share this vision, and we share the disappointment of being drowned out in meeting by classism, ageism, and racism. Some of us wonder if Quakerism isn’t all that different from the rest of liberal religion. From what we’ve seen, it isn’t apocalyptic. It isn’t radical. It doesn’t sound like Fox or look like Jesus. It works at incremental transformation while simultaneously shushing those who need the system overthrown.

I’ve moved on.

But even as I’ve stopped attending meeting – even as institutional Quakerism has, for the most part, become irrelevant to me – I cannot deny that I am a Friend. Quaker conceptions of Christ’s gospel have led me closer to Jesus and it’s integral to what I believe and how I live. At the end of the day, though, if tables aren’t being turned, if people aren’t being healed and set free, if the prophets aren’t marching naked, I’ll have to follow Jesus elsewhere.

I hear early Friend Sarah Blackwell’s words ringing in my heart: “Christ is trying to make a dwelling place within you but he is left rejected and homeless.”

Jesus is still seeking his people, people who see the Spirit of God in the suffering and offer refuge. I’m seeking those people, too.

Jesus, a Failed Revolutionary

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

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Many who followed Jesus hoped for a revolutionary, a leader who might liberate Israel from its imperial oppressor. Christ could have been the answer.

But he died.

And I wonder, if Jesus wanted an insurrection, then why did he die on the cross? Why didn’t he accomplish a revolution?

I’ve been sitting on this question, waiting and thinking. In the meantime, my apocalyptic theology has grown more and more anarchist. I’ve been impatient and angry. But my sense is that this isn’t the way of Christ.

God in Christ reveals what it means to be human. It is love – to live in communion with God and with your fellow children of God. It is to be surrendered to God’s liberating love, embracing the way we are all connected and bound to one another, and following the riskiest and most beautiful implications of this connection, even unto death.

Jesus embodied the truest, fullest way to be human.

And the cross reveals the cost. It reveals that this liberation work, creating a new society marked not by hierarchy but instead by equality and mutual yielding, might cost something. And it is worth it. It must be worth it. People are worth it.

I think the problem is that following God makes us feel like failures. We work and we work and we work, but we do not see the authorities and systems we fight come crashing down. We die fighting for revolution, contending for Heaven to be realized on Earth.

Living into God’s kingdom takes the same commitment that Jesus had, one where laying down your life for your friends is not just the greatest way to show love, it’s also the only way to undo imperial oppressors.

Jesus modeled the life of a true revolutionary, absolutely committed to the way and politics of heaven, even to the point of arrest, torture, and death – even to the point of failure. Living into Christ’s revolution means that failure is both possible and probable. But if resurrection is Christ’s insurrection, then failure might also be the only way to win.

There’s another lesson here: the destruction of the systems and authorities on this earth and the realization of God’s kingdom cannot be accomplished by one person. Christ’s ministry wasn’t a one-man show. It can only be realized through his people, through his body. Through us.

Jesus revealed to us that we need to actively live into another Way. We heal one another. We feed one another. We provide for one another. We work together. We fight for the liberation of all people everywhere. The Lamb’s war is our war.

It could cost us everything. But people are worth it.